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Culture Lust by Angela Carone

Killer of Sheep is a Stunning Portrayal of Ghetto Life

Last night, I saw Charles Burnett's 1977 film Killer of Sheep at Landmark's Ken Theater . Burnett made it while he was still at UCLA film school, shooting on weekends over the course of a year.

dance from Killer of Sheep

Henry G. Sanders and Kaycee Moore in Killer of Sheep (1977)


Killer of Sheep is remarkable. It's gorgeous to look at -- shot in black and white -- with each shot perfectly composed. It's raw and moody and poetic. It transports you into the daily life of a Watts neighborhood, into its kitchens and back alleys and onto its front porches.

The plot is a loose one, centering around the struggles of a slaughterhouse worker and his family. But the genius of Killer of Sheep is not in the story. It's in Burnett's ability to capture the mood and feel of this particular place and how it informs his main character's emotional life.

For decades, Killer of Sheep has been unavailable for commercial release, due to poor print quality and difficulty securing the music rights. But thank goodness they were secured - the soundtrack is an essential companion - featuring the likes of Paul Robeson, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong and Earth, Wind and Fire.

Don't miss Killer of Sheep . It will remind you of all the beauty that can fill one moment.

Have any of you seen it yet? Let me know what you think.


-- Angela Carone produces arts and culture programming for These Days and Culture Lust . Please read our guidelines before posting comments. Anders
July 02, 2007 at 06:15 AM
Ditto. I saw this a couple weeks ago. It's unlike movies we see today. Well, it's unlike movies in general. Actually, watching this film is interesting in this day and age, because you find yourself waiting for something awful to happen, something terribly tragic, something violent or mean. But the whole point of the film is that life is violent and mean, if not in action then in emotion. It's a scarring experience, and the film leaves a mark because it's so real and true and hard. -----